One of my favorite business books from the last few years was Chris Anderson's The Long Tail. It showed how, in a marketplace characterized by small customer-interest niches and unfettered by the constraints of limited retail space, products can succeed without being "hits." One example: Wal*Mart carries only the top 750 CDs, but consumers can find millions of other titles through online music sellers.
Over the past few days there was news that Britney Spears' new CD was #1 on Billboard's charts. That, itself, is a scary piece of news. But here's what caught my attention: Billboard later changed their list, putting the new album by The Eagles on top.
Why is that scary? The Eagles record is only available at Wal*Mart, and Billboard had to change their rules to include sales in limited retail distribution. Britney had sold about 300,000 copies, but The Eagles had sold 711,000 copies at Wal*Mart/Sam's Club in six days.
Personally, I can't wait to hear the new Eagles CD. And, I'm not one of those anti-Wal*Mart types, by any means. But it does catch my attention when American buying behavior can be so concentrated in one place. I'll admit it. I want to be part of the fragmented, interesting marketplace The Long Tail, describes.